Knight Candidate

Percival woke up alone in his room and sat up with the realization that he’d slept through the night and enjoyed the heavy sated feeling in his blood. He would daresay he felt good, and he hadn’t felt that in too long. He supposed Juliette had been right about sex and general well-being. He shook his head at the thought. Percival was sure that he wouldn’t have felt half as good if it had been anyone else but Lancelot.

He should know. He spent about five months in the bed of two men while in Troyes, and he hadn’t slept through the night whether he had sex with just one of them or both of them. He rolled out of bed and walked to the bathroom to get ready for the day.

Lancelot, he thought. His heart stumbled as he looked at his own emotionless face in the mirror.

Today would be the final trial before the beginning of the knight training program and the official beginning to the Knight’s Trials of Paris. Percival didn’t know much about the Knight’s Trials, but considering how lightly anyone in Paris wore their ability to fight, he doubted that Lancelot wouldn’t be accepted. Finding a place to stay for a reasonable amount on a knight-in-training salary, however, would be the difficult part even if he was only paying Zephyrinian taxes.

He could stay here, a small voice whispered at the back of his mind, He could stay with us.

It was the voice that Percival didn’t hear often enough to readily identify and always shocked him when it spoke. The house was huge, larger than Percival really needed since he was only one person, even after turning one of the rooms into a workshop for his other trades, he had enough room for at least five other people in the house.

He could stay here, it said again, He could stay with us.

The more logical voice in his head stood up and was staunchly against it.  He hadn’t considered sharing any sort of space with anyone in a long time for a reason. People would ask questions about his late hours and early rising, his nightmares, and his habits. The thread of Ariadne kept him from blacking out most days, but it wasn’t infallible even when he slept with it. They would ask why he woke up screaming most nights.

But Lancelot never asked.

Percival couldn’t find a retort to that, and everything was quiet. It had been clear that he’d wanted to, but he never did. His heart stuttered, imagining what it would be like to live with Lancelot. If they’d split nights to cook, if he was any good at cleaning, if maybe, by some chance, Percival would fall asleep with Lancelot’s arms around him and wake up the same for nights at a time– maybe even forever.

No!

He sucked in a panicked breath shoving that thought away violently as he turned on the faucet to brush his teeth. He couldn’t afford those thoughts.

No one stayed long.

No one stayed forever.

Everyone died, it was just a matter of sooner than expected or just plain soon. There would never be enough time for him to feel settled, there would never be a time that he wasn’t just waiting for them to leave him behind whether by death or choice.

Why do we have to be alone for things we can’t control?

Why engage in something so inevitably painful?

Why dwell on a distant future when we could be happy now?

We can’t be happy! There’s nothing to be happy about!

Can’t we just enjoy it? We trust him enough to sleep with him–

No one can be trusted!

He squeezed his eyes shut as the clinical voice started screaming, dredging up memories just to get the point across. Her eyes, her baby blue eyes that were usually so alive, staring at him.

We trusted them and look what happened?

There was no such thing as cooperation, a coalition, of community.

There was nothing, but a moment’s passing.

We’re alive, the quiet voice insisted as if that was the answer to every question and every–

What time is it?

He looked at the clock and his eyes widened. He’d woken up a full hour later than usual and would be late if he didn’t leave in the next three minutes. He heard himself curse as he rushed through scrubbing himself mostly clean. Hopping into his clothes on the way down the stairs, into his boots, grabbing his bag and rushing out the door. He locked it behind him and went sprinting down the street. Even if he caught the transport, it wouldn’t get him there fast enough. The fastest track would be to cut through the alleyways on foot.

Run!

Run, Perci’ they’re coming! Run!

He tried not to remember the last time he’d run so fast, jumped so high, using his full athletic ability to avoid obstacles, before tumbling into the Forge door and skidding to a halt. Zilla and Guinevere were sitting at the table with Leonde when he arrived and gave him an amused smile as he lost his balance and skidded on his side across the floor.

“Ten out of ten,” Guinevere said as he stood, brushing himself off and trying to look presentable even though his hair was still wet and his clothes damp.

He wasn’t even sure if his socks matched, let alone his boots. He glanced down and let out a sigh of relief. They at least matched.

“I’m sorry, I–”

“You’re fine, dear,” Zilla said. “A whole minute to spare. Come have breakfast.”

He swallowed, approaching the table slowly and taking a seat. Guinevere made him a plate and handed it to him before they continued their conversation. It had become a nearly everyday occurrence to sit and eat with them before the forge opened. They don’t ask what happened, but they talk to him, ask him how he’s doing, how Paris is treating him. They keep it light so Percival relaxes enough to actually eat with them and join the conversation.

He isn’t sure why, but Percival figured it had something to do with the feeling Zilla and Guinevere gave him about knowing things that he didn’t know about himself and hadn’t told them. When they finish, Leonde takes Percival to get ready for their part in the Knight’s Trials, furnishing weapons for the program and establishing a maintenance schedule in the forge.

“There’s the added bonus of just watching of course,” Leonde explained leading him out to the training pitch and the row of benches meant for the blacksmith to observe.

Guinevere came soon after with Zilla and sat on the banister between Leonde and Percival.

“Mom and I like to place bets on who’s going to get in and make it through.”

“Bets?” Percival asked.

She nodded, “She still owes me cookies from last year.”

Leonde chuckled and Percival turned his attention to the pitch as Leonde pointed out people including the Grande Duc of Zephyrine. Percival wished, more than anything, that he could understand why the sight of the man, one Edmond Fortier, made him furious and made him want to sob all at once.

Help–

He didn’t, he thought viciously.

If he could glare, he was sure that he would be glaring at the Grande Duc. After all, Baden-Württemberg was under the rule of his son and territory of Zephyrine. When he came of age, he would pay Zephyrinian taxes. The place where his parents died had been Edmond’s responsibility, and they were dead because no one came to their aid when they needed help the most.

His siblings had all died for the same reason.

All save one,  he thought and swallowed the spike of pain in his chest at the thought.

She had been all his face.

Edmond smiled and waved at them. Guinevere waved back and yelled, “You’d better pick the good ones, your Royal Highness!”

He looked shocked, “As if I could do anything else!”

What good is picking knights if they help no one?

Lancelot would have helped.

The voice shocked him out of the rage mostly because there was no retort to the statement. In his most logical and clinical of thoughts, he had no doubt that had Lancelot been a knight at the time, had he known about the issue, he would have found some way to come to their aid.

See, we trust him.

Not that much.

Percival snorted.

“There seem to be more ladies of the court here than usual,” Zilla said drawing Percival’s attention to the gathering crowd before meeting Percival’s gaze, “Perhaps you’re drawing a crowd.”

“Or the Zephyrinian candidates are,” Guinevere said pointing across the field to where Lancelot was talking to a man with a young face who looked a tad nervous even as Lancelot pat him on the shoulder and laughed.

“The Zephyrinian blood is strong in that one,” Zilla said with a smile. “And there’s no mistaking a son of Italy.”

Percival said nothing but did agree that there were clearly a few candidates that had drawn the crowd and Lancelot was among them. If Percival could barely stop watching him, he could only imagine how everyone else felt. SOon enough the proctor called for attention on the field and began the test.

To Percival’s eyes, it seemed that a large percentage of the combatants had little to no real combat experience. They were tested with a variety of weapons, allowed to choose from a select few. The young man Lancelot had been speaking with had been given a bow and a set of arrows, using it primarily as a means of distraction before knocking his opponent out with the hard metal of the bow.

Zilla cursed, “I was sure he was going to lose.”

“More cookies for me,” Guinevere said proudly. “Oh look, it’s Lancelot.”

The man with the bow flushed at Lancelot’s embrace and ruffling of his hair, chatting before he stepped on to the pitch to choose his weapon.

“That’s a tough break,” Guinevere said with a wince as Lancelot’s choices were incredibly limited. He chose a set of throwing knives and one attached to a long chain, while the other seemed to have been given his weapon of choice in the form of a French sword.

Leonde nodded, “Should have gone with the mace.”

“Not for Lancelot, Dad. His opponent.”

Percival waited to figure out what she could have meant but had a feeling that going up against Lancelot, no matter what he was armed with, was a tough break. After all, the men and women of Zephyrine were known to study fighting from a young age simply by being in danger of attack all the time. How it was that Zephrine as a territory managed to remain so was a mystery to most of the world.

Percival watched the two of them, watching one another and felt it, the moment before Lancelot threw a knife with terrifying accuracy, aiming for the man’s head. The man deflected it, missing the moment that Lancelot threw the chained knife in an arc and pulled tight so it dragged him forward and around his neck. He spun the knifed edge easily enough and waited for the man to give in. He tapped out rather quickly and Lancelot let the line go slack before removing it from around his neck and helping the man up with a clap on the shoulder.

“That seemed a tad ruthless,” Leonde said.

“I don’t think he liked that guy,” Guinevere commented. “He didn’t seem like the type to choke someone out during a test.”

Percival had to agree. The man must have said something incredibly insulting. As the Trials ended, it became apparent who would be staying and who wouldn’t be. The proctor called out names soon after the last fight. When the man called Lancelot’s name Percival could see the light and pride in his eyes as he stepped out of the ranks to fall in with the Knight candidates.

When he was done, Leonde led Percival onto the pitch to be introduced as his apprentice. Leonde tells them that their first day of training will be with him with regards to weapons and introduces Percival as his apprentice and a secondary contact should anything go wrong before the proctor tells them all that they have a week to prepare themselves make long-standing living arrangements in the city and such before dismissing them. Leonde snorted, most of them lived in Paris permanently. Lancelot wandered over to Percival as he collected the rest of the weaponry.

“Could I bother you for a moment?” He asked with a grin. “I’m told you’ll be someone I should bother with my weaponry problems.”

Percival looked at him, “You haven’t been assigned a weapon yet.”

“Well, in your case, I was thinking of a different weapon. Are you free this weekend?”

He licked his lips, “Shouldn’t you be looking for a place to stay?”

“That’s already been started,” Lancelot said. “I’ve got a full day of wandering the city to do far less interesting than if I can take up some time in your schedule.”

Percival nodded, “I’m free.”

“Great. Food? Dinner? I’ll probably be starving after a day of cross-city trekking.”

“Okay.”

“Great,” Lancelot said. “Where do you want to meet?”

“Wherever your last stop is.”

Lancelot nodded and pulled out a roll of parchment before copying an address down, “With any luck, I’ll be there by six or so.”

Percival nodded and took the sheet from him. Lancelot gave him a slick grin and a heated look before leaving to catch up with the man he’d been chatting with. If Percival stared after him for longer than necessary, he couldn’t really be blamed.

This is a bad idea, he thought and shook his head.

But it’s going to be an amazing experience, he chuckled at the whisper. He had never considered himself to have a very high sex drive, but after meeting Lancelot he was finding out that wasn’t exactly true.

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